Skip to main content

Heading into an election in May in a dead heat with the NDP, Liberal Premier Christy Clark has suddenly developed an interest in reforming British Columbia's notorious political fundraising laws. It's an unconvincing conversion.

Ms. Clark has promised to form an independent panel that will make non-binding recommendations to the B.C. legislature, most likely after the general election.

In other words, she hasn't committed herself to any reform at all, just to its possibility – which, frankly, already exists, thanks to the NDP's promise to ban donations from corporations and unions, and to set limits on individual donations, if it wins the election.

Ms. Clark is trying to neutralize the NDP pledge, and to respond to polls that show that most B.C. voters want reform. Still, her carefully hedged offering counts as progress, given her past intransigence and the utter inadequacy of B.C.'s fundraising laws.

B.C. allows corporations, unions, individuals and foreign interests to make unlimited donations to political parties. The Liberals have used that to parlay their 16-year stretch in power into a pay-to-play empire, raking in millions from companies and wealthy individuals seeking access to the Premier and to cabinet ministers.

Because of this, the perception that corporate money is influencing government decisions is impossible to avoid. Kinder Morgan, the Texas-based company that sought and received the Clark government's environmental approval of its unpopular Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party. That prompted two groups to seek a judicial review of the decision in January.

Premier Clark's non-partisan panel will almost certainly recommend that B.C. ban donations from corporations and unions, and set limits on individual donations. This is the norm at the federal level and in most other provinces. It's not perfect – the Trudeau Liberals have been trading access for $1,500 donations – but it is light years ahead of B.C.'s non-system, in which rivers of cash erode public trust.

The question for voters, though, is would Ms. Clark, as the re-elected Premier, implement such a recommendation? There are no guarantees. She could have done today what she is promising to, maybe, do tomorrow. Caveat emptor, British Columbia.